GI Bill benefits are at risk of being cut if military veterans do not show a "return on investment" to the American people, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki recently told the annual gathering of Student Veterans of America.
A return on investment basically amounts to veterans earning college degrees and getting jobs, but no one really knows how many veterans actually graduate and start a career.
As a result, the VA and SVA will now work together to determine graduation rates of student veterans. With the Federal budget tightening, data concerning the numbers of veterans earning degrees will become more vital.
More than $20 billion has been spent to send at least 817,000 veterans to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, since Congress enacted it in 2008. In the Fall 2012 semester, 480,000 students were enrolled under the GI Bill.
With so many veterans receiving GI Bill funds to go to school, Shinseki is stressing the need for student veterans to finish their education.
"The one-word speech I usually give is 'graduate, graduate, graduate'," he told the SVA. "If I sound like your dad, I am. I'm paying most of your bills."
A recent Huffington Post article claims 88 percent of newly enrolled student veterans will drop out after a year in school. Michael Dakduk, executive director of SVA, expressed dismay at that statistic.
"These baseless claims are an insult to the talents, abilities and dedication of every veteran succeeding in America's institutions of higher learning," he said.
Currently, there is no accurate data, because no organization, including the government, has been able to track graduation rates of student veterans.
What seems to exist are misconceptions about student veteran success in college.
Trista Corbin, Army National Guard veteran and president of the University of Missouri chapter of the SVA, attended the SVA's annual meeting. She stated that one source of the misconceptions is how veterans who transfer from one school to another are tracked.
"The majority of veterans start at a community college or smaller university, then they switch to a bigger university," Corbin said. "But, when they enter into the initial university and then withdraw, they consider them not graduated. When they come to the new university, they don't track the veterans anymore."
So, the veterans who transfer to another university seem not to be viewed as successes for the GI Bill program. But, again, who is "they" that is doing the tracking?
"I am not sure exactly. This is just what was explained to us at the SVA conference. It's quite discouraging," Corbin responded. Hence, the joint effort by the VA and SVA.
Another source of the misconceptions are the scandals surrounding for-profit schools. For-profit institutions collected 37 percent of GI Bill educational funds between 2009 and 2011 but only educated 25 percent of veterans, with a graduation rate of only 28 percent.
Corbin made it clear that the GI Bill program is invaluable for the future of military veterans. Just because there is currently no unified method for tracking how many GI Bill beneficiaries graduate, does not mean that veterans as a whole aren't being successful.
"For the majority of veterans, they wouldn't be in college without the GI Bill benefits," she said.